Published by Michael Bigg on Mon, 6 Nov 2017 11:21

Text of Mike's sermon preached in Brampton on 5th November 2017 – All Saints Sunday

 Revelation 7:9-17 and Psalm 34:1-10, 22  •  1 John 3:1-3  •  Matthew 5:1-12

 

The congregation took a moment to share with someone close by, thinking of a Christian person whose life or witness might be called “saintly” and has been an inspiration in their own Christian walk.

 

I wonder who you chose to talk about just then. Did you pick one of the great heroes of the faith? St Martin? St Francis? St Clare? Martin Luther? Mother Teresa? Or perhaps you chose someone much closer to home; a relative, a close friend, a Sunday school teacher. Maybe even a vicar?

 

Today we celebrate the feast of All Saints and it’s easy to think that today we remember all the remarkable Christians recognised by the church for their bravery, or wisdom, or teaching. All that is true. We do celebrate those people and thank God for them, but it’s not the whole picture. We celebrate all saints in the fullest sense of the word. All the “holy ones” of God, who have lived a Christian life and now enjoy the joy of heaven. We also celebrate the holy ones of God who are still here on earth: that’s you and me. The great cloud of witnesses in heaven and on earth.

Before I started speaking you heard from two of the saints, and shared with some of the others. Thanks be to God for them and I’d encourage you to share further with one another about the presence of God in your life and the lives of those round you. Testimony of God at work is one of the most powerful tools we have when sharing our faith.

 

But I’d like to make a few observations from Revelation that tell us something important about who we are as saints of God.

First of all let’s note the sheer numbers of people gathered around the throne. From every tribe and tongue. More than anyone can count. All dressed in white. All focused on the Lamb of God at the centre. The vision includes people who on earth were women and men, slave and free, powerful and powerless, healthy and ill, poor and rich, the notable, the notorious and those deemed unworthy of note at all.

And yet, before the Lamb they are all saints. Before the Lamb they are all saints. No hierarchy. All focussed on worship. It’s a vision of heaven. 

 

The second thing I’d like us to notice is what the saints in heaven spend their time doing. They are in constant worship of God, waving their palm branches, crying “Salvation belongs to our God” and “Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honour and power and might be to our God forever”. The primary calling of the heavenly saints is the worship of God.

And, actually, the primary calling of us earthly saints is the worship of God too. Your vocation and mine is to worship God, to adore the Lamb, Jesus.

But it’s not easy to worship something we cannot see, is it? It’s much easier to worship things we can see and touch. That’s why idolatry is such an easy thing to slip into. That’s why we find it so easy to end up worshipping money, or status, or power, or other people, or ourselves. Human beings are made to worship. We all have energy and love and desire to invest in something. Worship is the vessel (“ship”) in which we place our values (“worth”): worship is our “worth-ship”.

 

So how do we avoid idolatry? So how do we, the saints on earth, without the beatific vision of the glory of God to focus our worship, focus our worship on God, our worship’s proper object?

One answer is “vocation”. “Vocation”. Our primary vocation is worship of God, but in order to help us do that God gives us all secondary vocations through which we can enter into our primary vocation: worship.

We all have many callings, I think. One of my vocations is to priesthood, but maybe you have a calling to engineering, or floristry, or accountancy, or maybe even a vocation as an estate agent. I have a vocation as a husband and a father. Maybe you have a vocation to being an aunt, or a godparent. Maybe a vocation as a single person or a vocation to friendship.

Maybe part of your vocation is something practical, or something theoretical. Maybe your vocation is to a particular group of people, or a particular individual. Maybe God is calling you to a new thing at the moment. Listen! Listen! Maybe God is calling you to refresh your commitment to a vocation that has become lost among other things. Listen!

 

Some people are called by God to do extraordinary, world-changing things. Most of us are called to do relatively normal things to the glory of God. Whatever your calling, part of living out your primary vocation as an earthly saint, as a worshipper of God, is to live out your vocation to the best of your ability.

If you’re called to the vocation of motherhood, worship God in mothering children. If you’re called to be a scientist God is worshipped as you explore the world God has made. If your vocation is practical God is worshipped in the work of your hands.

I encourage you to share your sense of vocation with others. I encourage you to identify vocations in others who perhaps don’t recognise it in themselves. This is a part of our worship of God!

 

 

 

The final thing I’d like you to observe is how the heavenly saints have come to be there. Is it because of their great and heroic deeds? Is it their acts of faith? Is it their vocation faithfully lived out? No. None of these things. “They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the lamb” and for this reason they praise God.

The good news, as always, is that in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God’s love, grace and mercy come to us first. In Jesus Christ, God’s love, grace and mercy come to us first as a free gift and makes those who will bring their tattered and dirty robes to him into those wearing the pure white robes of the saints before God’s throne.

Our callings are God’s gift to his saints to enable us to worship him. They are not things to be done before we are called saints.

Maybe you feel that you have a calling that you’ve never quite fulfilled. Maybe you feel that you’ve made a mess of a vocation God has for you. If so, then hear this: you are no less a saint because of it. And hear that God can, if you let him, transform your missed calling into a greater and more glorious calling yet. Forgive yourself and let the Holy Spirit work in you still.

 

And so, let us look forward to the heavenly feast of praise in which we can join with the saints who have gone before us. We’ll join St Audrey, to whom we said goodbye a few weeks also, and all of the Brampton saints we’ll be remembering next Sunday. Even the forgotten saints. All of those simple saints who have lived out their ordinary vocation in some way, together with those who have done extraordinary things for Jesus. All saints. All there together because of what Jesus has done.

Sometimes we can catch a snippet of the heavenly music in our own worship. This is our hope – the song of the resurrection in our ears calling us forward.

 

By faith let us have the courage to dance to that tune today until the day comes when God creates a new heaven and a new earth. The day when our frail bodies are conformed to Jesus’ glorious resurrection body. When he is revealed and we will be like him for we will see him as he is.


I’m going to finish with a sonnet by Malcolm Guite which felt like hopeful music for me when I read it this week. (see more here)

Though Satan breaks our dark glass into shards

Each shard still shines with Christ’s reflected light,

It glances from the eyes, kindles the words

Of all his unknown saints. The dark is bright

With quiet lives and steady lights undimmed,

The witness of the ones we shunned and shamed.

Plain in our sight and far beyond our seeing

He weaves them with us in the web of being

They stand beside us even as we grieve,

The lone and left behind whom no one claimed,

Unnumbered multitudes, he lifts above

The shadow of the gibbet and the grave,

To triumph where all saints are known and named;

The gathered glories of His wounded love.

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